In the annals of punk rock history, there is a wide spectrum of notoriety, from the unsung heroes to the Hall of Fame pillars with which everyone is familiar. Somewhere in between those extremes are the Pagans, the Cleveland punk band fronted by Mike Hudson that operated in fits and spurts in the late ’70s and ’80s. Every bit as volatile as they were fearsome, they operated in relative obscurity during their initial run, but seemed constantly on the verge of greater success during subsequent reunions in the ’80s before self-destructing each time. The music they left behind, however, speaks for itself, and songs like “What’s This Shit Called Love?” and “Six and Change” are convincing evidence of the band’s raw power.
While a couple Crypt releases in the ’90s reignited interest in the band, aside from a handful of live appearances, Hudson has largely focused on writing over music for the past couple of decades. He ran his own newspaper in Niagara Falls, penned a few novels, and recounted his years as a Pagan in Diary of a Punk. As such, it was surprising when it was announced last month that not only was he releasing a new album, but a new Pagans album. Credited to “Mike Hudson & The Pagans,” Hollywood High (Ruin Discos) shares the spirit of the original Pagans, if not its members. To get the story behind the record’s existence and what’s been going on in Hudson’s life, I spoke to the Cleveland native on the phone from his home in Los Angeles a couple weeks ago.
What instigated doing the record? I’m under the impression that you haven’t really been doing any music lately, right?
Mike Hudson: I hadn’t been in the studio in 15 years! There was this producer back east, who shall remain nameless, and he thought it would be a good idea for me to do a country and western record. He threw some money at us and he had this list of covers he wanted us to do. I knew Loren Molinare. He plays with The Dogs and he used to play with Little Caesar, who were signed to Geffen. For my money, he’s the best guitar player in the world. After my brother died, he married my brother’s widow and he raised my nephew as if he was his father. So he’s like family—he is family! I always call him my brother-in-law, even though it’s not technically correct.
So I got him, and I had just been in rehab with Jimmy Bain from Dio and Rainbow and who used to write songs with Phil Lynott. We were sitting around listening to the stuff this guy wanted us to record and were like, “We can’t fucking do this,” so we started writing songs. That’s basically the genesis of it. Every once and awhile we’d do one of those covers and send it back east just so he thought we were working on it, but what we were actually doing is recording our own stuff. It was a scam, which is in keeping with my previous records. That money eventually ran out, so we raised some more ourselves and finished it.
Besides name recognition, was there any reasoning behind calling it the Pagans, even though obviously none of those guys had been in the Pagans before?
MH: I talked to (Pagans guitarist) Mick Metoff and through him to Tim (Allee, original bassist), and they heard this stuff. It was actually Metoff who said that I should just call it the Pagans. But it was an important consideration that this material would stand with the other stuff. We’re playing out on December 6 at a place called Blue Bag Records on Sunset Boulevard and then on January 17 at a club called Alex’s in Long Beach.
Would you ever work with those guys again?
MH: Those guys are seriously retired. Metoff just won’t do it anymore—I asked him. He said that he hasn’t even had a guitar in his hands in 10 years. And Tim is the same way. In fact, when we played at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, which preceded the Chicago show—and Tim didn’t go to the Chicago show—his fingers were so blistered, he had Band-Aids on all 10 of his fingers because it had been so long since he played.
You were talking about getting their blessing and making sure the record lived up to the others. Do you feel like you have a legacy to live up to?
MH: It’s absolutely a concern. I did a solo record when I was living in New York, with Cheetah (Chrome) and some other guys. I was happy with the record, but if you compared its 10 songs to the 10 best Pagans songs, it wasn’t up to that standard. That’s why I released it just as Mike Hudson, but this is different.
Was that the last record you put out before this one?
MH: The last record I was in the studio for was The Styrenes’ We Care So You Don’t Have To.
X__X is doing a couple shows here and Craig Bell is playing with this line-up. Do you keep in touch with the old Cleveland guys?
MH: John (Morton of X__X and electric eels), a little bit, we argue. Metoff all the time. Craig, to a degree. It’s mostly through Facebook. (Mirrors drummer) Mike Weldon got in touch with me the other day, and I hadn’t talked to him in years.
What instigated you to move to California?
MH: The Dogs did a cover version of “Her Name Was Jane.” Loren called me to get permission and he said they were doing a video and asked if I wanted to be in it. So I came out here, and the girl in the video who plays Jane was Evita Corby. She’s kind of a fashion designer, and on the back cover of Kill City where Iggy and James Williamson are kissing a young girl’s ass, that’s her. I fell for her like a ton of bricks. I got back to Niagara Falls and I started calling her. Before too long, she was calling me. We had our first date, which was a week in Vegas, and I ended up selling my newspaper and moving out here to be with her about three years ago.
And she’s the inspiration for this record, as well as the Fame Whore novel, right?
MH: Absolutely, yeah. I wrote the book for her and made the record for her.
But you aren’t together anymore?
MH: No, it was pretty tempestuous.
Is the record supposed to be a companion piece to the novel?
MH: Well, there’s the song “Fame Whore” on the record, which is just me reading from the novel. In my mind, it’s all kind of one thing. I mean, she rocked my world! I had been living in Niagara Falls for 14 years and had a very successful business, and I said, “Fuck it.”
So what are you doing out there? I heard you were doing some acting.
MH: I’m not doing so much now, but around the time that I was working on the record and finishing up the novel, I was doing a lot of extra work. It doesn’t pay that well, though it’s cool to do, to be on the other side of the camera and see the process. Fame Whore was basically written to be turned into a movie. When I go to parties, I talk it up. I think it will eventually be made into a movie, but whether that happens or not while I’m alive remains to be seen.
In Diary of a Punk, you talk about what made the scene in Cleveland was these very seriously minded people wanting to make a mark. In terms of your own thinking, did you just want to make a mark in Cleveland or did you want to take over the world?
MH: At first, we just wanted to be big in Cleveland. But once we signed to Drome and you could see the thing was starting to take off—The Clash were big and the Ramones’ “Sheena Was a Punk Rocker” cracked the Top 100—it was like, “We can do this.” But that didn’t last long. You basically had four alcoholics who really liked cocaine, and our manager wasn’t so much of an alcoholic, but he really liked cocaine too, so it was doomed. But for a brief shining moment, it seemed like it was possible for us to be big on a national level.
Looking back now, do think if you had just kept your shit together a little bit longer that might have been possible?
MH: I don’t think it was a question of longer, but just a question of if we kept our shit together at all! We played some really good shows and word got out. Some A&R guy from Warners was going to come see us, but with a Pagans show, it was always a crapshoot. One night we’d be really good and the next we’d be fucked up. On this particular night, we were playing with Tin Huey. It was one of the nights we were fucked up, so the A&R guy ended up signing Tin Huey. Substance abuse was a huge part of our trip.
At the same time, do you think that kind of unpredictability also fueled the music? Could you have made such fierce music if you weren’t such fuck-ups?
MH: Yeah, while it hurt us at the time, it’s kind of contributed to the longevity of the band. Our stuff has never been out of print. In 1978, one of the biggest bands in the world was The Babys, and I use them as an example because their singer, Mike Corby, is Evita’s ex-husband. They toured with Led Zeppelin and were a huge arena band. They sold millions of records, but until this year, they were out of print for almost 40 years. Every once in awhile they’ll play them on the classic rock station, but you really don’t hear them anymore. So the fact that the Pagans never went out of print and have sold somewhere in the neighborhood of 200,000 records by now is amazing. Our carpe diem attitude contributed to that and still is appealing—largely to adolescent boys—today.
Everyone says to me—and it really annoys me—that we were unjustly overlooked, and beyond us, that Cleveland was overlooked compared to New York or London. But I know from talking to Mick, Cheetah, David Thomas (Rocket from the Tombs, Pere Ubu), and Bob Pfeifer (Human Switchboard), and from our perspective, what happened is beyond our wildest dreams of what would happen. When we started out, if you had told us we were going to end up selling 200,000 records, we’d have laughed. We were just a bar band from the east side of Cleveland—we couldn’t sell 200 records! So like I said, my ambition when I started the band and for most of its existence was just to be the biggest punk band in Cleveland.